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Finding relief for fruit farmers

Published 11:04pm Thursday, June 7, 2012

LANSING — Sen. John Proos and Rep. Al Pscholka joined several state lawmakers Tuesday in announcing that legislation has been introduced to help provide financial relief for Michigan’s fruit farmers, who were devastated by this winter’s early thaw and subsequent frost.
“Our local farms are critical to the Southwest Michigan economy and way of life, and this program is another way for us to help our local farmers recover from this natural disaster,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph.
Michigan State University study found that from 2006 to 2010, the average annual fruit sales were $361.9 million. Using these figures as a base, the estimated loss this year is 58 percent of the 2006-2010 average, or $209.8 million.
In 2002, the Michigan Legislature passed the Michigan Farm Disaster Relief Program, which provided assistance to Michigan farmers having financial hardship due to significant weather-related crop losses. Like that program, House Bill 5717 would allow hard-hit fruit farmers access to capital in the form of low-interest loans that would be repaid in full.
“Our farm belt is in cardiac arrest, but they don’t need surgery; they need a defibrillator,” said Pscholka, R-Stevensville. “This is not a bailout and these are not people asking for a bailout.”
The April frost was devastating in southwest Michigan, destroying tens of thousands of acres of the region’s grapes, peaches, blueberries and more approximately 95 percent of the region’s total grape crop. As a result, it is projected that grape farmers will lose more than $18 million for the 2012 season, peach farmers will lose $14 million and blueberry farmers will take a hit of about $15 million.
Both the Legislature and Gov. Snyder have urged President Barack Obama and the U.S. Agriculture secretary to declare southwest Michigan and all of Michigan’s fruit-growing regions disaster areas in the wake of weather conditions that devastated fruit crops, particularly grape production.
HB 5717 has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee for consideration.

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